Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Socialist Milwaukee Race - January '09

January’s First Friday Alley cat race actually took place on the second Friday of the month due to the majority of the people who would be racing being in Madison for a bike polo tourney. The race was titled Milwaukee Sewer Socialism and according to the hints on MySpace dealt with the socialist history of the city. I was able to get Danny out for the race even though he hadn’t ridden in the cold and we have received about 2 inches of snow earlier in the day.

I drove downtown and parked a block from the bar. Grabbed my bike and locked it up at the usual spot and went it. The place was packed, Danny was sitting by the door and I greeted everyone I knew. After grabbing a beer I sat down at the table and passed the time. Soon registration was collected and more people showed up. The field was large and daunting. There were prizes to be won and I at least wanted to get something out of the race. Around quarter to eight we all pilled outside for the manifests and the start of the race. I unlocked my bike and headed for the pack, grabbing one of the photo copied sheets. Someone commented on the handwriting and we made sure everyone could read the instructions clearly. The manifest had 10 stops and a map marking each stop, nice and convenient. The race was going to be long and a few people grumbled about that. Other complained about one of the stops, on Jones Island, and shared horror stories about the condition of the road. I overheard two other racers talk about how there was a fence you could climb through on the island to get into Bay View instead of going all the way around. It would be nice to know where that shortcut was.

I went over to Danny and told him to follow me. When he asked which was we were heading I faltered and told him east. I figured we would cut around to Clybourne and get onto Water from there. Go was called and we took off down the sidewalk. At the street I saw cross traffic and thought to send out a warning to those heading the same way on the road but had to be concerned with my own safety as I dealt with getting off the sidewalk and onto Broadway. The other bikers headed the cars with out my warning and Danny and I made it safely onto the road, headed southbound. I didn’t look behind, I just pushed forward. At the intersection with Clybourne we ran into a red, but looking at another set of light I could see that was about to change. I stalled just long enough to make sure the traffic coming off of the freeway didn’t get the green then took off around the corner. As we headed west to Water two cars came up behind us. The first one passed with no problem, the second one didn’t seem to be able to make up its mind about its course of action and caused me to slow down and wait for it to go. It turned onto Water and we followed suit.

Three blocks into the Third Ward a police car had pulled someone over. By this time also another racer had caught up with us. Just as we reached the squad its suspect pulled out and as we passed by the cop he yelled out at us asking us where our lights were. I didn’t have time to think of anything and kept going. Before I hit the bridge out of the ward the other cyclist passed me. I way leery of the bridge due to the wet conditions and hated that my rear tire always slipped around a bit while crossing. This time was no different and I was happy to be on the other side. I chased after the other racer as we pulled into Walkers Point. The roads were a mess from the snow so we took to the right lane aggressively, not wanting to run into anything in the shoulder that could throw us off our bikes. We passed under the narrows train bridge to honking horns behind us and picked up the pace once we hit the open stretch of 1st street. Just before the McDonalds north of National I saw the other racers manifest hit the ground. I shouted out to him that he dropped his manifest and he instantly went into a skid to slow down. As he did he started slipping around a bit and I feared he would wipeout in front of me. I quickly passed him and kept going. Danny caught up to me at National and I ended up in the shoulder as I crossed the road. Unknown to me the pavement had a large hole in it that tried to swallow my tire. I got caught for a second, slipped in the snow but fought it and kept my bike upright and forward. Danny commented on that and I told him I hit a crack. We barreled on towards Bay View.

The wind picked up significantly as we passed by Allen Bradley. I put my head down, went down into my drops and pushed ahead. The coast was clear all the way to our first stop. As I neared the stop I ran into a sunken manhole and feared that I had pinched a tube like I did in November’s race. I figured if I did I would find out soon enough and kept going. I reached the bridge on KK that leads into Bay View first trying to scan for a historical marker. I stopped and waited for Danny while I looked. He showed up shortly afterward and I pointed to a small bronze plague on the east side of the river. We quickly biked over to it and hoped onto the sidewalk. It was only a weight limit plaque and as we began to search for the real thing the other racer arrived. He hopped on the sidewalk and we headed to the south end of the bridge were we found the plaque we were looking for in a control station. We scoured the plaque, got our answer and I plotted the next stop. I walked my bike out to the street, decided to stay in the north bound lane and took off, with Danny not far behind.

A bit past the bridge the road became much smaller as construction moved it to one tight lane on either side. From my view of the intersection beyond the construction I could see that traffic was stopped but I didn’t know for how long and feared it might start up again before Danny could make it through. That fear was squashed as we pulled off of KK and into oncoming traffic on Bay Street. Once clear of the median we gingerly pulled over to the east bound side and pushed into the wind. Due to the conditions I took wide birth of the right hand lane, but as we neared the bend that ran the road parallel to the freeway I pulled into the left hand lane. Luckily traffic was non existent. The next patch of road was rough and I feared running into a hidden pothole. Once through that section the road got a bit better and I was able to pull back into the right hand lane. A set of headlights illuminated part of the road as a vehicle came up behind us. Danny shouted something at me and I shouted back at him that they can go around. The vehicle never did go around and eventually turned off. Danny pulled up beside me and said that it was an ambulance. I gruffly stated that it had a lane and I didn’t see any lights so fuck them. Danny pulled into the left hand lane as we neared the end of the road. I told him we would be taking a left and it was an uncontrolled intersection. A car neared us and I pulled into the left hand lane as well.

We reached the end of Bay and pulled onto Russell. I knew the next stop was Russell and Superior and I had an idea of where it was, but was still uncertain until the block before the stop. I remembered that there was a park in that intersection that was dedicated to workers that were killed during labor strikes in the 1880’s. At the park we pulled across the intersection hopped off our bikes and walked to the marker. I planted mine in the snow, with it threatening to fall over but staying up right. I’m actually surprised it didn’t fall over and Danny thought it was pretty funny. We clomped through the snow and began scouring the large marker telling the history of the park. As we began scouring the board for both answers we needed at this stop the other racer showed up. I plastered my manifest to the wood sign as best as possible to write as clearly as possible. Once done we headed back to our bikes and I plotted the next stop.

The next location was only a few blocks south of where we were just off of Superior. We mounted up and took off. As I crossed the intersection two drunken guys went back from their car into the bar and one of them, an older guy, shouted out at me something about being from Milwaukee. I smiled and kept going. I wasn’t sure exactly where the next intersection was but knew it was close by. The first cross street was a bust but the second one was the correct one. I took a left onto the street with Danny following to find out when we hit the end of the block that it was the wrong way. The other biker had pulled onto the street as we turned around and turned around his self. We quickly followed and when I spotted the stop I shouted out to him. This stop was a large stone block that apparently is a well of some sort. You could hear the water still bubbling through it and Danny asked if that was what he was hearing. I found the answer and told everyone else.

As I came back to the road we all started discussed were to go next. There was only one stop left on the south side and it was one I had not completely decided to do. The stop was the one on Jones Island. I asked the other racer if he knew of a shortcut from that stop but he didn’t and told us that the road was filled with hidden train tracks, including one what had slippery wood. We decided to work together and took off. We went back down to Superior and Russell, turned east on Russell and headed towards Carferry Drive. We approached the intersection near the freeway onramp and I paused to look for sign that marked the Car Ferry entrance, the other racer told me to take a left so I did. He had been down here before and I trusted his judgment. As we passed the freeway I heard the unmistakable sound of a bike hitting the ground. I looked back to see Danny on the ground. I slowed down, thanking the fact I had a fixed gear bike since my rim brake was not working to well and swung around to assist Danny. I pulled up, asked him if he was ok and if the bike was ok. He said he was and I turned back around, knowing he would catch up eventually.

I took off like a bat out of hell fearing the unknown that lay ahead of me. Once I got onto the ‘island’ I paused and waited for the other racer and Danny to catch up. I wasn’t exactly sure which road to take out of the two presented to me. The other biker headed off on the left path and we followed. He warned us about the tracks and told us about a recent group bike ride were a bunch of people bit it. We gingerly road down the desolate and snow covered stretch, passing by sinister looking industrial sites. I almost wondered if we were really allowed to be on the road. As we cut across the first train track a car came towards us and a young woman yelled out of her window at me how to get back to a normal road. I told to keep going the way she was and she would get out. We continued on, complaining of the horrible conditions. Further along the other biker lost control of his bike and hit the ground. I was thinking he must have hit a patch of ice and counted myself lucky for not falling yet when my bike lost control. In panic mode I unclipped my left foot, wrenched my right foot out and jumped off of my bike. It hit the ground as it cleared the hidden train track and I stayed upright. I turned around and yelled at Danny to stop, which he did. He safely crossed the tracks and we all continued on, shaken.

As we continued on down the desolate stretch we began to wonder where our stop was. We came across one open field and I figured that had to be it but I couldn’t see anything aside from a now trespassing sign. Just then the other biker shouted out that he spotted a wooden park sign further down the road. We had our stop and we took off. The other guy was already there when I showed up and had put his bike against the sign. I dumped mine in the snow bank and met him at a large plaque. I pulled out the manifest and found the question. We had to write down the date stamped on the large anchor in the park. I looked at the anchor and swore when it was full of ice. I scrapped some off and began walking around it, shinning my flashlight on it. As I came around to the other side I found the date stamp, had the other biker confirm it and we all jotted it down. We were now done with the south side stops and had to get back downtown and complete the rest of those. The biggest and more immediate problem was back tracking through the dangerous road. It had to be done and we all mounted up and gingerly went back.

Halfway through it we crossed a group of three bikers and they asked if the park was down that way. The other racer said no, I said it was back that way. After they took off Danny joked with me about my sense of competitive spirit. Once we reached the horrid tracks I hoped off of my bike and walked it across. Soon afterwards we were back on open and safe road and I took off, feeling the heat now that a group of bikers that had hit the north portion first were already this close to us. The wind pushed me further and I got ahead of the other two by some blocks. As I got back into Bay View proper I stopped at an intersection to wait for the other two to catch up. At the intersection was a bar a friend was supposed to be hanging out at. I entertained the idea of stopping in for a second or calling but soon squashed it as they caught up quickly. Once they were close I took off again, making sure Danny saw where I was going.

We pulled back onto Bay and pounded hard. From Bay we turned back on to KK. The second time through the construction sight proved a bit more daunting as the left side of the lane was ruble strewn. I considered pulling onto the sidewalk to cross the bridge, hating to deal with my back tire slipping but didn’t and dealt with the discomfort. I pounded faster down 1st street and glanced back to see how far behind the other two were. I wasn’t concerned with loosing Danny as it was a straight shot back downtown and didn’t worry when I couldn’t clearly see him. I pushed ahead and tried to make it back into downtown as fast as possible. The rest of the ride up to Michigan Street was uneventful and grueling. My feet were still warm but I was exhausted and there was still much of the race to be biked. At Michigan I wished I was actually turned to finish the race and have a beer but knew that time would come.

At Wisconsin I pulled ahead of traffic at a red light and took over the right lane until I reached Well’s at which point I stopped and waited for Danny to catch up. He wasn’t too far behind and it gave me time to scan the manifest and realize we had more stops that I remembered to take care of. I was starting to lose faith in placing well but knew I had to finish the race, which only had one long distance stop left and one trouble spot left to deal with.

When he caught up the other biker was no where to be seen, he was on his own again. We crossed Wells on a red and pulled up to the dais in front of the newly restored city hall. We had to jot down the date the city was founded. After that we pulled out to head west to the next stop when the other racer turned ahead of us. He was going to the next stop before hitting city hall. We quickly followed and I warned Danny we were about to swim upstream as we went against traffic on Wells. We rode past Pabst and I followed the other biker on the sidewalk and we all stopped in front of a large historical marker. This stop was the most troublesome of the stops. The wording on the manifest didn’t exactly fit the wording we were finding on the marker and we debated for a minute or two exactly what to mark down. Wanted to get to the next stops I wrote down what I best thought was the correct answer and took off, with Danny following. I wished the other biker well and told Danny the next path.

We pulled onto Water and headed north. Our next stop was a bridge on the outskirts of down town. As we travelled to it I continued to second guess which road we were actually heading for but I continued on. Danny fell behind by a few blocks as I pulled through red lights and lulls in cross traffic while he had to wait. He caught up again as I reached the correct cross road. I pulled over into the left turn lane ahead of a car so as not to have to wait and turned west onto Cherry. I stayed in the east bound lane and stopped at the bridge to wait for Danny, which caused one of the cars heading towards me to panic and honk at me. I ignored them and pulled out the manifest. When Danny showed up I took off and yelled at him to find this answer and that I was going to the next one and would be back shortly.

I took off up Cherry, not exactly knowing where the next street was I needed to find. I knew the name, Galena, and knew it was close by but couldn’t think of where. When I hit 2nd I headed north and climbed half a block up a steep hill before doubting that it was up the hill and turning around. As I did some young hipster chick was walking her dog and stared at me in wonder. I cringed going down the hill as my rim brake was being ineffective and traffic was picking up. I stood up and worked as best as I could to lock up my rear tire, much to my knees displeasure. I made it safely to the bottom and cut across the street when traffic had cleared. As I rolled south by the Assurant building I wondered if Galena at this point wasn’t really a road and if the building that is next to Libiamo’s was that one I wanted. I continued on to the next intersection only to find that on incorrect as well. I headed west to 3rd and headed north to Cherry. I turned back onto to Cherry and decided to follow tire tracks in-between Assurant’s parking lot and the high school on the corner. As I did I could see a blinking tail light that undoubtedly had to be another racer. I quickly closed the gap and found him crossing the snow to the building that I thought might be the one earlier. We traded some small talk about the difficulty of this stop and both began to scan the building for the date stamped on it. We found it; I wished him good luck and pulled into the parking lot after two bewildered frat boys on my way back to Danny.

I can up to him and found him off of his bike on the phone. I asked him what the answer was, and told him my answer. We both wrote them down and I ran through the next leg of the race. We had to shoot out to the water tower next to St. Mary’s hospital at the eastern terminus of North Ave. It was going to be a long trek but we had to do it. We pulled onto Water on a red light and I warned him about conditions on the bend to Brady Street being tricky. Cars were stopped at a red light at Van Buren and we got in line. They took off and so did we, taking up the drive lane as there was no where else to go. At Humboldt I cut around the traffic as it was waiting to turn and pounded down the street only to be caught at a red light at Farwell. The light turned green and I followed 2 cars up to Downer with Danny close behind. We pulled ahead of the cars and onto Downer on a red as traffic was virtually no existent. From this point I kicked it into high gear again, took the right lane and pounded towards North Avenue. I thought to my self how I appreciated the fact that the bridge over the bike path was done and fully open now. I glanced back and saw Danny back a few blocks but kept going. I had given him rough directions and would wait a bit at North to make sure he saw where I was going.

I stalled at the red light on North then turned east, following 2 cars. They moved slowly and a block down the road became tight with construction. A car that was parking pulled widely out into the lane causing me to yell hey at them in shock and pull into the oncoming lane to make room. I crossed the last intersection and pulled up to the water tower, dumping my bike in the snow. I ran to the plaque as Danny caught up and I told him we needed to find out what the tower was made out of, he said it looked like limestone to him. After scanning the marker I found out he was right. Now we had one spot left to get to and the trip to this one had me worried. From this point we had to get down to Lincoln Memorial Drive. I told Danny we were going down and to make sure his brakes worked well.

I pulled out of the roundabout and headed tentatively to the steep winding road that led us to the lakeshore. I rode cautiously and slowly, continuously holding the brake down and holding back on the pedals. Around the first bend I noticed a good group of people standing on the hill top and watching the dark lake. I chanced a glace at the view and it was mildly impressive, maybe my look was too quick to take it all in but I just saw a vast dark horizon, pretty forbidding. About half way down the hill a motor vehicle of some sort came behind us but was kind enough to hold steady and not pass us. I couldn’t tell what it was from the sound of the engine but I kept thinking it sounded like a scooter. I made it down the hill safely, released the brake and took off for the intersection. I slowed down to make sure I survived the 90 degree turn and was finally on Lincoln memorial. The road was open, clear of snow and wet. The wind was behind me and I opened up harder then I had in the race. A short while later the car that sounded like a sick scooter passed me by. I kept going, faster and faster, not worrying where Danny was. The next stop was farther than I thought from our entrance to the road and after a while I began to lose my steam, but the bike didn’t want to slow down, it kept going full bore. This was one of the few times since switching to a fixed gear that I wished I still could coast. I even contemplated unclipping my feet and letting the pedals go, but remembered that my rim brake had not been working too well. I endured the exhaustion and help going. The road was very wet and I soon tasted road salt on my lips and my glasses began to get sprayed. My feet also began to get very cold as my shoes and socks socked up the water rapidly. Eventually I reached the final stop Alterra Coffee on Lincoln Memorial. I pulled onto the sidewalk, pulled out the manifest to read the question and waited a few seconds for Danny to show up. As he did I headed around the building trying to find what I was looking for. As we debated what to do I noticed a worker taking out the trash, I yelled out to her where the room was located we had to find and she told us what the answer was. I thanked her, doubted the accuracy of the answer she gave, jotted it down and told Danny that it was time for a beer.

I told him the route back to the bar and took off. Again I opened up and sped down the street until my legs ached and I had to slow down. I glanced back as I neared the art museum, regretting my directions to him and kept going…he would get back to the bar soon. I pulled onto Michigan and dashed the last few blocks to the bar. I pulled onto the sidewalk and balked at the large number of bikes parked out front. I was pretty late apparently. I laid the bike down and ran into the overflowing bar to turn in my manifest. I went back outside, locked up and waited for Danny to show up. When he finally arrived we both headed back in and he turned in his manifest. I talked to some people, moved to the back side of the bar and ordered a beer while waiting for the results. It took a while for others to finish and for the questions to be checked. The three racers that we passed on Jones Island had been stopped while crossing the Hoan Bridge. They were given warnings but decided to cut their lose and headed back to the bar. Eric hadn’t even left the bar, even though he had paid his registration. When the results were finally announced Danny had gotten 7th place and I had gotten 8th. For some reason I had three wrong answers and Danny had two. I was ok with that because I ended up getting a new chain, which I needed after the beating I had just put my bike through. It was time to go home and shower.

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